Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Gods Will Be Back

I long for the day when the mention of Greece will once again first bring to mind ancient gods, epic tales, and a land and sea infused at every inch with the seminal essence of western civilization.   Someday that will happen, for financial crises are transient and gods are immortal, though not eternal—after all, they do need nectar and ambrosia to sustain them.

Ahh, yes, the good old days of true Greek gods quick and strong, knowing all things, capable of miraculous achievements.

It’s been a long while since I’ve read up on the ancient gods, and I must admit to often getting them mixed up, but I’ve just learned that my confusion puts me in illustrious company. 

Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.)
According to Alexander S. Murray’s Who’s Who in Mythology, even Socrates was confused by the varying number of seemingly same gods (one Aphrodite or two?) and multiple names for one god (Zeus in summer was called Zeus Meilichios, the friendly god, and in winter Zeus Maemaktes, the angry god).

Aphrodite (Bouguereau 1879)
Some think that’s attributable to disparate early Greek tribes who even after coalescing as a single race kept the original names for their separate gods despite obvious similarities to each other (Dione, Hera, Gaea, and Demeter). 
Hera with Zeus

But call them what you wish, the essential purpose of the Greek gods was the same: their existence and interactions explained to mortals the natural order of things, e.g., the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, lightning, thunder, earthquakes, storms, waves, and on and on as needed.  

What made Greek gods so significant was that the essentially human form of the Twelve Olympian Deities of Mount Olympus and of the lesser gods living in other environs gave to those who worshipped them the sense that their deities could understand and relate to a mortal’s needs and fears. 

The mythological explanations offered by the carryings on of the gods largely centered upon the three supreme rulers of the world: Uranos, Kronos, and Zeus. 

The first to rule was Uranos.  He represented the heavens and, as the husband of Earth, brought forth life and everything on our planet. 
Uranos with Earth

His son, Kronos, ruled next as god of the harvest, ripening and maturing the forms of life brought forth by his father. 
Kronos and Rhea

And, lastly, ruled Zeus, bringing order and wisdom to the universe. 
Zeus overthrows Kronos (Van Haarlem 1588)

I think it’s safe to say that Zeus hasn’t been around for a while.  Or has he? 

Whatever, all of this impresses me, as it should every writer, artist, and musician who freely borrows from the tales of the gods in their own creations, albeit sometimes consciously oblivious to the source of their inspiration.  So much of what we think unique to modern culture is simply a new way of retelling of what ancient Greeks witnessed in their deities. 

I wish I had time now to say more.  But there will be later.  One must always make time for the gods. 



  1. I'm so pleased you 'fessed up to getting confused about these gods. I feel much better being in such knowledgeable company. Then add the Roman gods - and I am totally confused. Please keep showing us family trees - that helps a lot.

  2. Wonderful post. I tend to get the Greek gods and the Roman ones mixed up.

  3. This is starting to sound like a GA meeting. You know what I'm talking about, one of those sessions where you stand up and say, "My name is [ ] and I get my gods confused."

    Being the compassionate sort of fellow that I am, I thought I'd help out the confused and those who don't yet realized they're confused with this quickie list of Roman names (in parentheses) for the Greek gods mentioned in this piece: Uranos (Caelus), Kronos (Saturn), Zeus (Jupiter), Aphrodite (Venus), Rhea (Cybele), Gaea (Tellus), Hera (Juno), and Demeter (Ceres).

    For those sticklers who wonder why I did not include Dione, the answer is because the Romans also called her Dione. Why? Because it's the female form for Zeus (pronounced dios). There, aren't you happy I cleared that up?

    Sort of makes you appreciate a one God world. A lot less memorization required.

  4. Simpler yes, but not as colorful. And all those wonderful stories. Thanks, Jeff.

  5. Wonderful informative post!

    On top of the Greek gods and Roman gods, we also have the Chinese gods and Hindu gods - no wonder we mere mortals are confused :)

    This is the 3rd time I'm trying to leave this comment. Fingers crossed!

  6. And Aztec, Babylonian, Canannite, Celtic, Egyptian, Japanese, Mayan, Norse, Sumerian, ARGHHH. My God, where will it all stop!

    Let's hope Heaven. :)

  7. I love the images just awesome.Great post and great presentation.It is always in sayings that God will come back again in the world.You are right.God